'There's a child in that vehicle,' officers told before fatal shooting of toddler and father, audio reveals
OPP 'aware' of audio posted online, says evidence to be put before the courts
Audio from the deadly police shooting of a father and toddler in Kawartha Lakes, Ont., is casting new light on the moments before police opened fire and what they might have known heading into the encounter.
The recording of police radio chatter shows officers were told there was a child in the truck they were pursuing through the mostly rural community on Nov. 26, 2020, and that, according to one officer, the driver had put a gun to his own head.
The pursuit sprang from a reported child abduction earlier that day and ended with the fatal shooting of both 18-month-old Jameson Shapiro and his 33-year-old father, and left an Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officer seriously injured.
Ontario's police watchdog said Wednesday three officers have been charged in the shooting — with one count each of manslaughter and criminal negligence causing death — in the child's death.
The audio was recorded by Shawn Salo, a freelance journalist who runs the site Peterborough Scanner Feed, which posts the radio communications of emergency services in the community northeast of Toronto.
"I hope by releasing this recording it helps you understand the situation a little better," Salo wrote upon posting the 12-minute recording to YouTube.
CBC News is not running the video in its entirety as some may find it disturbing.
Howard Morton, a longtime defence lawyer and former director of the Special Investigations Unit, said that while the audio "is informative and important," it's important to remember it does not make up the entirety of the call, which "would have started much earlier."
"To make any judgment about whether the dispatch demonstrates negligence or a failure to do something, you can't measure that at this point," Morton told CBC Toronto.
However, he said he expects the dispatch call will be "key" to the three officers' trial.
'He's pretty desperate'
The recording begins with officers looking for the father and his rust-coloured Toyota Tundra.
Early on, a female voice, who appears to be the dispatcher, alerts officers that there is a child in the truck.
"Units be advised there's a child in that vehicle. There's a child in that vehicle," she says.
Moments later, an officer following the truck warns another who is awaiting it: "He's pretty desperate … he had a gun to his head."
"I've got a negotiator on standby," the female says.
About a minute later, police are heard requesting a canine unit and a helicopter.
The pursuit continues along Pigeon Lake Road — with the driver maintaining about 170 kilometres per hour, according to officers — when they are told to "back off" and give the suspect vehicle space. Police at this point seem to be guiding the vehicle toward a spike belt.
Seconds later, a loud crash is heard followed by moaning.
Another person is heard yelling, "Drop it!" before gunfire — approximately seven shots.
"Shots fired, shots fired! Officer down!" one officer is heard yelling.
That's followed by another set of loud bangs — it's unclear if they're gunfire — followed by silence for several moments. The next two minutes is mostly silence and garbled audio.
Around the 8:25 mark, someone is heard calling for paramedics.
"An ambulance is en route," the dispatcher advises.
Morton said the standard training for police officers is to look for a way to de-escalate a situation and avoid use of force, if possible.
It's clear from the tape that the officers believed they were at risk, Morton said, but "there doesn't seem to be any consideration of the risks to the child when they [opened] fire."
He said he expects that will be a key issue at the officers' trial, but cautioned again at drawing conclusions since it's difficult to gauge a sense of timing from the scanner audio alone.
Officers opened fire
CBC Toronto attempted to independently verify the recording, sharing it with OPP.
OPP spokesperson Bill Dickson confirmed the force is "aware that the dispatch audio is online."
"It would be inappropriate for me to provide any information regarding the injuries suffered by our member. All of the details will be part of the evidence presented in court," Dickson said in an email.
The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has previously said officers had been trying to intercept the father's truck when it crashed into an OPP cruiser and another car on Pigeon Lake Road. One officer who was standing outside the cruiser at the time was seriously hurt in the process, the SIU previously said, but provided no further detail.
Three officers then opened fire, striking the boy inside the truck and his father, according to the SIU.
The boy was pronounced dead at the scene. His father was taken to hospital and died of his injuries about a week later. He has yet to be officially named by the SIU.
Police have said they found four guns at the scene, three belonging to the officers and one found near the father's truck.
The SIU said last year it had interviewed 18 police officers and 14 civilians as part of its investigation.
It said Thursday it would not comment further on the case, given it is now before the courts.
The charged officers are set to appear in court in Lindsay, Ont., on Oct. 6.
With files from John Rieti and Alison Chiasson